Tropical Storm Nicholas weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday night after slowing to a slow advance over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, but still drenching the area with torrential rains.
The downgrade came the same day that Nicholas landed on the coast as a Category 1 hurricane, knocking out half a million homes and businesses and dumping more than 12 inches of rain across the same area flooded by the storm. Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Nicholas could potentially stagnate in storm-ravaged Louisiana and trigger life-threatening flooding in the Deep South in the coming days, forecasters said.
Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday in the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and was soon downgraded to a tropical storm. As Tuesday night approached, its center was 60 miles (95 kilometers) east-northeast of Houston, with maximum winds of 35 mph (55 kph) at 7 p.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the National Center for Hurricanes in Miami. However, weather radar showed that the heaviest rain occurred in southwestern Louisiana, well east of the center of the storm.
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The storm is moving east to northeast at 6 mph (9 kph). The National Hurricane Center said the storm may continue to decline and even stop, and although its winds will gradually subside, torrential rains and a significant risk of flash flooding will continue along the Gulf Coast for days to come.
Galveston, Texas, saw nearly 14 inches (35 centimeters) of rain from Nicholas, the fourteenth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, while Houston reported more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain. That’s a fraction of what fell during Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches (152 centimeters) of rain into southeast Texas over a four-day period.
In the small coastal town of Surfside Beach, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of Houston, Kirk Klaus, 59, and his wife Monica Klaus, 62, weathered the storm at their two-bedroom home, which was stands between 6 and 8 feet. (1.8 to 2.4 meters) above the ground on stilts.
“It was wrong. I will never do it again,” Kirk Klaus said.
He said Monday it rained all day and as the night progressed, the rains and winds got worse.
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At some point around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, strong winds blew out two of their home’s windows, letting in rain and forcing the couple to continually scrub their floors. Klaus said the rain and winds created a storm surge of about 2 feet in front of his home.
“It looked like a river here,” he said.
Nearby, Andrew Connor, 33, of Conroe, had not been following the news at his family’s rented vacation home in Surfside Beach and was unaware of the storm’s proximity until it struck. The storm surge surrounded the beach house with water, prompting Connor to consider using surfboards to carry his wife and six children to higher ground if the house flooded.
The sea never got through the door, but it flooded the family sports utility vehicle, Connor said.
“When I opened the hood, I had seaweed and beach toys and all that in my engine,” he said.
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Nicholas moves so slowly that he will dump several inches of rain as he crawls over Texas and southern Louisiana, forecasters said. This includes areas that were already hit by Hurricane Ida and devastated last year by Hurricane Laura. Parts of Louisiana are saturated with nowhere for additional water to go, so it will flood, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
“He’s stuck in a weak management environment,” McNoldy said Tuesday. So while the storm itself may weaken, “that won’t stop the rain from happening. Whether it’s a tropical storm, a tropical depression, or a post-tropical spot, it’s still going to rain a lot and that’s not really good for that area. “
More than half a million homes and businesses had been without power in Texas, but that number fell below 200,000 on Tuesday afternoon, according to the website poweroutage.us that tracks utility reports. Most of those outages were caused by high winds as the storm moved overnight, utility officials said. Across Louisiana, about 89,000 customers were without power Tuesday afternoon, mostly in areas devastated by Hurricane Ida.
Nicholas brought rain to the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Harvey, blamed for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area. After Harvey, voters approved the issuance of $ 2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood control projects, including the expansion of wetlands. The 181 projects designed to mitigate future storm damage are in different stages of completion.
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McNoldy, the hurricane researcher, said Nicholas is bringing in much less rain than Harvey.
“It is not a lot of rain. It’s nothing like Hurricane Harvey with rain feet, ”McNoldy said. Not only did Harvey stagnate for three days in the same area, but it moved a bit into the Gulf of Mexico, allowing it to recharge with more water. Nicholas won’t do that, McNoldy said.
Nicholas, which is expected to weaken into a tropical depression Tuesday night, could dump up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain in parts of southern Louisiana. Forecasters said southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle could also see heavy rain.
On Tuesday, Nicholas’s heavy rains dumped blue tarps that covered Ida-damaged roofs across southern Louisiana.
Ida destroyed a building and left holes in the roof of the main plant of Motivatit Seafoods, a family-run oyster wholesaler in Houma, Louisiana. With Nicholas’s rain falling on the high-pressure processing equipment, owner Steven Voisin said he didn’t know if the machines could be salvaged after the latest round of tropical weather.
“And a lot of people from here to New Orleans have this or more damage,” he said. “They are not going to recover quickly or easily.”
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The Governor of Louisiana. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, before the storm arrived in a state.
In southwestern Louisiana, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said Monday crews were checking the drainage system to keep it free of debris that could clog and cause flooding. But after multiple natural disasters in such a short period of time, he said he is concerned about the mood of the residents.
Last year, Category 4 Hurricane Laura caused substantial structural damage in the city of nearly 80,000 people. Weeks later, Hurricane Delta ripped through the same area. Freezing temperatures in January blew pipes across the city and a May storm flooded homes and businesses once again. Some residents have had to gut houses multiple times over a year.
“With what people have been through over the past 16 months here in Lake Charles, it is understandable that they are very, dejected, excited. Every time we have an indication that a meteorological event is approaching, people get scared, “he said.
Associated Press Writers Terry Wallace of Dallas; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Jay Reeves in Houma, Louisiana; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Julie Walker in New York and AP science writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.
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